I first met Ben when he was a freshman in my English class. He did something one day that I believe will stick with me for the rest of my teaching career. Every once in a while, I’ll interrupt the academic lesson with a casual thought that begins with “This is a life lesson …”
Sharing Helpful Life Lessons
I’ll share some tidbit that is tangentially related to what we’re doing and can be as simple as “Gentlemen hold doors for ladies” or “Seriously, learn how to change a tire—you’ll have to do it someday.” Well, on this particular occasion, I no sooner said the words “Now, here’s a life lesson …” and Ben yelled, “Hold on!” and all but dove into his backpack to retrieve a notebook. He had a special notebook in which to record my “life lessons”!
Sometimes it’s easy to forget the impact we have on our students in those moments when we’re just being ourselves. Sometimes it’s scary to realize the impact we have on our students in those moments when we’re just being ourselves.
Teaching Unintended Lessons
Earlier today, I asked a group in my classroom if a refillable water bottle that had been left behind for a few days belonged to anyone. When no one claimed it, I dropped it in the garbage can. Some of the students protested that it was someone’s property, to which I responded along the lines that if they wanted it, they would’ve gotten it by now. I was in one of those grumpy, tired-of-picking-up-after-students-who-know-better moods.
What I forgot is that I was teaching another life lesson—and probably not the one I intended. At best, my intent was to make a point to pick up after oneself. I’m fearful the lesson I taught is that my student’s forgetfulness is unforgivable and intolerable—not to mention the voice of Martin Luther now ringing in my ear from the Small Catechism: “We should fear and love God so that we do not take our neighbor’s money or possessions, or get them in any dishonest way, but help him to improve and protect his possessions and income.”
There’s no way around it. I failed that life lesson. No one was diving into a backpack to retrieve a precious notebook, but notes were being taken all the same. I imagine that some of my readers have found themselves in a similar position. I expect that as we get further into the school year and the challenges to our time and patience increase, we find ourselves teaching lessons that we’d rather not have remembered.
Redeemed Despite Failure
But maybe in our moments of failure, we can still find something redeemable. Or rather, in our moments of failure, God still finds something redeemable: us! Instead of looking upon our failures and publicly dropping us into an eternal wastebasket, He sees us not in our forgetfulness, flaws, and failures but in the forgiveness and glory that Christ made ours at the cross. He lifts us beyond the mire of worst moments and sets us on solid ground, restored in relationship with Him, and recalls us to serve Him by returning to our callings as educators.
His forgiveness redeems our flawed lessons. Out of our poorly taught life lessons He empowers us to bend a knee in confession—not just to Him but to those students against whom we’ve sinned, to thank the student bold enough to stand for truth, to ask forgiveness from those in our charge. We boldly teach our students that Christ forgives and restores us from our worst moments. Are we daring enough to live that truth before those who have seen our failures and shortcomings? That may be the most noteworthy life lesson of them all!
Small Catechism quotation from Luther’s Small Catechism, copyright © 1986 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.
Need inspiration for teaching faithful life lessons? It is hard to beat teaching from Luther’s Small Catechism.